Designed by Michael Hurdzan with Dana Fry and constructed by Landscapes Unlimited, the Shelter Harbor course between Westerly and Charlestown was the first private layout to open in Washington County, Rhode Island for more than a hundred years when it was unveiled in 2005.
The clubhouse is set within a 400-acre property on one of the highest promontories in Rhode Island and it offers wonderful views over the 18-hole layout, the adjoining 9-hole par three course and the nearby waters of Block Island Sound.Characterised by rough-edged, bearded bunkers, many of which were built by Coore & Crenshaw collaborator, Jeff Bradley, the course also features a number of small stone dykes that appear with regularity throughout the round.
Among the many outstanding features at Shelter Harbor, two stand out: bunkers and rocks. While the number is not excessive, the bunker locations Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry have found add interesting challenges. The second shot on the opening par 5 puts the player’s mind to work right away as (s)he decides how to avoid a gaping bunker. There’s another at the par 5 11th, but my favorite is the short par 4 7th. Here Hurdzan and Fray placed a pair in the middle of the fairway that are quite visible from the tee. But the best is yet to come as just over the rise and past that first pair is a third bunker—completely invisible from the tee. It’s as if the 12th at the Old Course had been transplanted to Rhode Island. The clever bunkering continues greenside as well.
Running game options abound (only 2 holes require the aerial variety) though there are still bunkers (notably at the 1st and 16th) that threaten the approach. In addition to being challenging, the bunkers are also beautiful—the work of Jeff Bradley, who built the bunkers at such Coore and Crenshaw courses as Friar’s Head, Bandon Trails and Cuscowilla.
Stone walls also abound, most constructed from the rocks pulled from the New England soil that drove so many farmers to the more fertile Midwest. While ubiquitous, the walls rarely come into play. In some cases, Hurdzan and Fry left some boulders on the course, the most prominent of which threatens the second shot on the par 5 9th.
The course is usually in great conditioning, with the greens running 11 on my stimpmeter even during a recent early May round. There are plenty of wetlands, but few forced carries—though at 13 and, to a lesser degree 18, you should pick your tee box carefully. Most tee shots are confronted by wide fairways, but there is usually a better side of the fairway to be on.
For its size, Rhode Island has as many fine courses as any state. Shelter Harbor is my Ocean State favorite and among my half dozen favorites in New England.